with Marta Rose
Writing characters and that are significantly different than we are as writers, and who have had experiences we do not share, can be tricky, especially when we are writing across lines of race. And yet, if we never wrote across lines of difference, we would never be writing fiction at all, or at most, we would only write fiction that is loosely veiled memoir. Is writing across lines of race different? Is there, or should there be, a taboo when writing across lines of race that doesn’t generally restrict our ability to write across other lines of difference in fiction?
This class begins with the premise that writing across lines of race is not and should not be considered taboo, and yet … it’s complicated. Some writers, especially white writers, resist the notion that they should in any way be restrained from writing characters of color The white novelist Lionel Shriver recently and famously argued that “[t]aken to their logical conclusion, ideologies [sic] recently come into vogue challenge our [sic] right to write fiction at all. Meanwhile, the kind of fiction we [sic] are ‘allowed’ to write is in danger of becoming so hedged, so circumscribed, so tippy-toe, that we’d [sic] indeed be better off not writing the anodyne drivel to begin with.” The African-American novelist Kaitlyn Greenidge concisely summed up Shriver’s argument as the “wish not so much to be able to write a character of another race, but to do so without criticism. And at the heart of that rather ludicrous request is a question of power.”
In this class, we will investigate some of the issues of power involved in writing across lines of race in the hopes that students will leave less fearful of inevitable and important criticism, and with the courage to write the diverse worlds most of us actually live in. We will take a critical look ourselves at some much-admired contemporary writers, and learn multiple lenses through which we can engage in such criticism, of other writers and of ourselves. Students should leave the class with a more complex understanding of the issues than Lionel Shriver appears to hold, and with some practical craft tools for writing characters of many races.
This two-hour class will be followed by a six-week course in the fall covering similar material more in-depth. While this class can serve as a useful introduction to the longer course in the fall, it will not be a pre-requisite to that course. Check back soon for details on the forthcoming fall course on Writing Race.
Marta Rose is the Assistant Events Coordinator at Big Blue Marble Bookstore, and she is studying to become a Licenses Massage Therapist in order to support her writing habit. She holds an MFA in Fiction from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, and is working on her first novel set in Philadelphia.